No. 1 ranked Tennessee remains undefeated at 12-0 after Saturday's slugfest over Notre Dame. The Lady Vols led by as much as 22 in the second half but had to survive a second-half comeback to prevail, 62-51. Despite the fact the Fighting Irish shut down guard Shanna Zolman (1-7 from the field) and contained forward Candace Parker (3-11 from the field), they still lost by double digits on their home floor. As a team, Tennessee shot 32.8 percent – the worst performance of the season – but sophomore Alexis Hornbuckle produced a stat line of 15 points, eight rebounds, five steals and four assists. Junior forwards Dominique Redding and Sidney Spencer hit some huge shots when Tennessee had to have a bucket.
After Sunday's practice Summitt said she planned to use the same starters against Old Dominion as she has used the past two games: Hornbuckle, Zolman and Spencer on the perimeter and Parker and Nicky Anosike inside.
The Lady Monarchs are expected to start: T.J. Jordan, No. 23, 5'8 sophomore guard (14.0 points per game, 3.4 rebounds per game), has started at point for the past two games; Shantel Wilson, No. 13, 5'9 junior guard (4.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg), had a double-double in the overtime loss last week to North Carolina; Lawona Davis, No. 3, 5'11 senior guard (11.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg), preseason All-Conference in the Colonial Athletic Association; Sherida Triggs, No. 34, 6'1 junior forward (9.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg), 11 boards against Rutgers this season; and Tish Lyons, No. 14, 5'10 junior forward (12.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg), tied career high with 20 points against North Carolina.
For Tennessee, Spencer has moved into the starting lineup at small forward so that Parker can stay inside the paint at power forward. Redding also logged minutes at small forward and played well enough in the first half against Notre Dame to start the second half in replace of Spencer, but Summitt had to quickly reinsert Spencer in the game.
Summitt said Redding plays better in short stretches, and that Spencer, whose play is sometimes better off of the bench, must make the adjustment to starting.
"The thing about Sidney is that she's got size to shoot over people, a lot of big game experience, but she's got to have going into this role an understanding that she is a player that can help us," Summitt said. "Particularly you think about the shots she and Dom made yesterday. They're zoning, they're box and one. We can't get Zolman shots. Their shots were big for us."
Summitt was ready to begin limiting minutes and shortening her bench last month when sophomore point guard Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood announced she was leaving the team. With 10 players, including a true freshman, two redshirt freshmen, and three sophomores on the roster, Summitt had to once again experiment with her lineups.
She also needs depth at point guard. Hornbuckle took over the spot permanently with backup from Zolman and freshman Lindsey Moss, but more help is needed. When Hornbuckle picked up her fourth foul in the second half and had to leave the game, Notre Dame began systematically slicing Tennessee's lead.
"I think what we're trying to do as a coaching staff is look at all of our options and a lot of different combinations," Summitt said. "It (the loss of Wiley-Gatewood) really forced us to look at the depth we have at guard and the depth we have at the forward position."
On Sunday, Redding handled some practice reps at point guard and ran plays in half-court sets on one end of the floor while Hornbuckle did the same at the other end.
Is Summitt likely to use Redding at the point this season in a game?
"Absolutely," Summitt said. "I'm working her in there right now. I think the thing about Dom shorter minutes are a better fit for her rather than extended minutes (at any position). I think when fatigue sets it that's when things tend to break down."
Spencer came off the bench in the second half – a move that likely rewarded Redding's excellent first-half play and reminded Spencer to step it up – but Redding had some immediate miscues and Spencer took over.
Spencer and Redding, the two juniors on the team, can play perimeter and post positions. Summitt just needs to figure out where and when to use them.
"Maybe if I was a psychologist I might be able to figure out all this stuff I need to figure out coaching-wise, but I'm not," Summitt said. "So sometimes you just have to experiment. The reason I started Sid at Temple is because I wanted her to start at Notre Dame, and I didn't want it to be the first time. She will accept the role, and I think she'll just get better and better."
The recent play of Sybil Dosty doesn't require analyzing. She can score inside, and most importantly, she will board the ball.
"She rebounds," Summitt said emphatically.
Dosty was on the floor at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Indiana, when the game mattered most.
"She's put herself in a position to be considered for playing in that type of game in that environment," Summitt said. "When we finished that game we had one senior, three sophomores and a freshman on the floor."
The senior was Zolman and the freshman was Parker. The three second-year players were Dosty, Anosike and Hornbuckle.
It is precisely this type of game, Summitt said, that will pay dividends in the postseason. The youngsters had to produce, and Tennessee proved that it could win even when its two stars were essentially neutralized, except for Parker's play on the boards (11).
"I'm very encouraged," Summitt said. "That's exactly what we talked about as a staff that we had Tye (Fluker) and we had Nicky and we had Sybil step up big inside and then Dom and Sid made some shots that really made a difference, and Alexis had a solid game."
Zolman's hometown fans from Syracuse, Indiana, packed portions of the Joyce Center with many wearing special T-shirts to honor the former star at Wawasee High School. Notre Dame dampened the celebration by blanketing Zolman defensively to deny her the ball.
In a postseason tournament game Summitt could have opted for some adjustments, but after talking to Zolman they decided to let other teammates get the points.
"I didn't want other people to just become screeners," Summitt said. "I wanted them to stay involved offensively, and I thought in the end they stepped up and made the plays for us."
It was an effective strategy. Tennessee never lost it lead, won on the road and didn't have to tip off future opponents as to how it might respond in such a situation again.
"I think Shanna had a whole lot going on, all the people, all the hoopla," Summitt said. "She hadn't seen a box and one – we worked on it briefly in practice – but is that a permanent way to handle it? No. … I think she'll do a better job having watched tape."
Summitt spent a significant portion of Sunday's practice session watching film with the team and breaking down what happened against Notre Dame.
"Sid has to understand. She's a scorer for us," Summitt said. "Candace has to understand that (she's a scorer). Dom has to understand she does a good job catching and shooting as opposed to she tried to create in the second half. Play to your strengths as a player. Bring to the team what you bring to the team."
The post play has made great strides so far this season, and Summitt acknowledged it would be ideal if one of the bigs separated herself from the pack and consistently scored 10 to 12 points a game. But Summitt is pleased to this point.
"Consistency in the post game is a must for us," Summitt said. "I'm pleased with the progress we've made, but we haven't arrived. We've got a lot of work yet to do. Yet they were all over the boards, they made plays, knocked down key free throws. I was pleased with our three bigs inside that got a lot of productivity."
One of the bigs is a senior in Tye'sha Fluker. The other senior on the team is a guard in Zolman. Both have shown their commitment is to the team. Zolman demonstrated that by her performance Saturday. She sacrificed scoring opportunities so that her teammates would remain involved in the offense. Fluker could be starting – when she goes strong to the basket she is difficult to stop – but Summitt has opted to go with the defensive effort of Anosike and bring Fluker off of the bench.
"The first thing it speaks to is her commitment to the team," said Fluker's primary position coach, Dean Lockwood. "Some players are so self-centered that that would be a hard thing. They couldn't get past or look past, ‘I'm a senior, having been here three years and now when the lights are turned out and the PA guy announces names, he's not announcing mine.'
"It speaks so well for Tye's commitment to the team that she's very, very unconcerned about that, and she's extremely concerned about the team's performance and whether we win or lose and her role in doing that. That's the thing that really jumps off the page at me is her willingness to accept that role and her commitment to the team. She knows she's going to get minutes as long as she's playing like she's playing now. And she's producing with her minutes. We're doing a position stat in addition to the team stats. She's being very, very productive."
Summitt has said since the season began that she would vary her starting lineup, and that she had what she called co-starters – players who came off the bench but were considered first team by the coaches.
"The thing that we like so much is we like coming in with a starter," Lockwood said. "We look at Tye as a starter so we're bringing a starter off the bench. Other people when the game is four, five, six minutes old, and they're bringing maybe a backup player, we're coming in with a starter, and we want Tye to be able to really exploit that. We really like that, and Tye has accepted that."
Fluker is averaging the fifth-most minutes played per game with 17.3. Anosike checks in at 19.2. Zolman leads the team at 30.8 with Parker behind her at 28.3. Hornbuckle is averaging 25.7, but she played 30 minutes against Notre Dame, and because of the depth issues at point guard she is likely to log a lot of minutes in a lot of games.
That becomes a concern for Summitt, especially in a week like this. Tennessee plays Old Dominion at home Monday, travels to South Carolina for a Wednesday night game and then faces Connecticut on Saturday afternoon in Knoxville. Summitt has to figure out when to rest her team this week and save the players' legs – which will be needed – and when to keep them on the practice floor – also just as needed.
"With only 10 players I think we just have to be mindful of shorter practices and more days off," Summitt said. "And it's not helping this team. They need a lot of work."
SCOUTING OLD DOMINION: Assistant coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for Old Dominion University. Here's his assessment of what Tennessee is facing:
"This is a very athletic team," Lockwood said. "This is sometimes an overused phrase that you hear from coaches at different points in the season, but this is a (2-6) team that took North Carolina to overtime and played very, very well in doing so. It wasn't a fluke type of thing for them. They're an athletic team. They're very good at dribble drives. Dribble drives, dribble penetration, one-on-one play is huge for us. We've got to be able to contain; we've got to be able to not let them get into the paint. We've just got to do a good job stopping the drive. And then offensive rebounding. This team is very aggressive in attacking the offensive boards. First shots are not where they're getting their best percentages but second and third opportunities they're really hurting people that way."
The Lady Vols likely will see a team that wants to run, but Lockwood said Tennessee must dictate its suitable tempo.
"They want to play a fast tempo," he said. "They want the game to be a little bit of a track meet in the sense of they'll really try to push and get up and down; they'll take quick shots. The more possessions for them, the better they like it. I think for us we're certainly not going to sit there and try to slow the ball, but what we need to do is really focus on execution. We can't get sucked into a game that's so wide open we stop doing what we're doing well."
Tennessee isn't opposed to running – fast-break chances are always welcome – and isn't opposed to an early shot in the offense. But those shots need to be high percentage ones.
"An up-tempo game playing our way, though," Lockwood said. "We don't want just an up-tempo game that looks like it's going to be two passes and a shot every time. We're going to look for layups and close-in shots first, whether that's one pass or three passes. We want to push the ball and get a paint shot or a wide-open shot for a shooter. If we don't have that, we don't want to get sucked into quick play. What we want to do is now get some good shots out of our half-court offense."
When the Lady Monarchs have the ball, Tennessee must be ready to defend in and in close proximity to the paint where, Lockwood said, Old Dominion gets the bulk of its points.
"Dribble drive, pull-up jumpers," he said.
As far as perimeter players, Tennessee needs to keep defenders on Jordan and Lyons, he said.
"One player, T.J. Jordan, No. 23, was 4-13 from the arc against North Carolina," Lockwood said. "She hit her first three (shots) and then she went 1-10 the rest of the way from the arc. But she obviously continued to shoot them. They've got another player, Tish Lyons, No. 14, who's very good catch-and-shoot mid-range, very pure, good stroke. So they do have a couple of players who can shoot the ball well, but what we have to really zero in … they get their points from dribble drives, dribble drive kicks, getting fouled and getting free throws and offensive rebounds."
Tennessee can't overlook Old Dominion – and it's likely the North Carolina game, an 88-80 loss with ODU leading at halftime – would prevent that. Three of ODU's six losses have been to teams in the top 10 (Duke, Rutgers and North Carolina).
Bottom line, Lockwood said: "The big thing for us is to defend one on one, to control rebounding and then to be very poised and to execute our offense well. We've got to really screen and move the ball and space out where we can take advantage of some of our size and matchups as opposed to quick shooting and that type of thing."
FREEFALL: Tennessee's overall free throw shooting, once a tremendous team strength, has been uneven of late. On Sunday, Summitt instituted two changes to change that.
"We have an 80 percent rule now," Summitt said.
When players shoot free throws during practice, they must hit 80 percent. Otherwise, they run timed suicide sprints and have extra shooting. As a team, Tennessee is hitting 75.4 percent. That number was in the low 80s two weeks ago.
Dosty's play in the paint of late has earned her more minutes, but spotty free throw shooting would be the one thing that could possibly take her off the floor at crunch time. Currently, she's at 55.6 percent (15-27). The other two "bigs," Tye'sha Fluker and Nicky Anosike, are at 66.7 percent (16-24) and 72.7 percent (32-44), respectively.
Sidney Spencer leads the team at 100 percent (16-16), and Shanna Zolman is hitting 92.3 percent (24-26). The next best free-throw shooter is Candace Parker at 81 percent (51-63).